The Right and the rest of us

American Power and World Order. First edition - American Foreign Policy - Between Europe and America
November 26, 2004

Two of these books supply an analysis of US foreign policy, and the third asks how Britain should align itself in relation to Europe and America.

Christian Reus-Smit, a professor of international relations at the Australian National University, offers a critique of the current Bush Administration’s neoconservative world-view. He views this outlook as a Nineties phenomenon. As he sees it, American confidence took a knock in the Eighties, when the US share of all the world’s gross economic output declined to
23 per cent from its 1953 peak of 53 per cent. There was then a seductive recovery to 33 per cent, which inspired the neoconservative illusion that America could act in glorious isolation. But, the author argues, material success does not, in our increasingly interdependent world, yield commensurate power - a circumstance he labels “a central paradox of our time”.

American Power and World Order is organised thematically to cover topics such as the ethics of foreign policy. In other sections, Reus-Smit derides the “Bush doctrine” - a creed that displays an “impoverished repertoire of diplomatic techniques” - and rails at recent neoconservatism, though without asking exactly how new it really is. While the book struts forth as liberal hardball, its author is too timid to address the Palestine-Israel issue that is so central to the failure of US diplomacy. The work could be added to international relations course reading lists as an example of contemporary polemics.

Bruce Jentleson has made a professional effort to produce a useful text for international relations or similar courses. It is a revised and updated renewal of a work that first came out in 2000. American Foreign Policy draws on its author’s teaching experience at Duke University and on the erudition he gained as editor of Oxford University Press’s four-volume Encyclopedia of US Foreign Relations . It offers maps, tables, graphs, readings such as Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History , passages on international relations theory and narrative and description of a wide array of diplomatic episodes.

One of the book’s strengths is the author’s determination to integrate analytically “international policy and domestic process”. For example, one diagrammatic illustration of the logrolling process splits a B-1 bomber into its components and makes the observation that the various bits were manufactured in every state in the union bar two.

Consistent with the “intermestic” approach, Jentleson discusses not only the Palestine-Israel issue, but also the Jewish-American lobby. His reservations about its effectiveness and instrumentality are erudite and will correct widely held misconceptions. American Foreign Policy does not emphasise historiography, but its blend of international relations theory and thoroughly prepared data make it an excellent international relations text.

Andrew Gamble, professor of politics at Sheffield University, believes that “in contemporary British politics America has become a central preoccupation”. Now that debates on empire and socialism have receded, the question of how Britain should balance its relationships with the US and Europe has become critical not only to politics and diplomacy, but to the question of national identity. A vital issue is English identity, now that the imperial sun has set and the Celtic nations are reasserting their own distinctivenesses.

Accordingly, Between Europe and America has a chapter on “English exceptionalism” - an idea not implausibly borrowed from America. He believes that just as Margaret Thatcher’s Tories had a “civil war on Europe”, so Tony Blair’s Labour Party is having a “civil war on America” that is being intensified by the debate over the Iraq War. In Gamble’s view, British public opinion is more closely aligned to European than to American opinion on the Iraq issue. Reviewing future scenarios, he selects two most probable outcomes. One is the Blairite “bridge” strategy, with Britain mediating between Europe and America. The other is that Britain will become “a normal European country”, a development that the author clearly prefers and imagines to be the wish of the British people as distinct from their current (mis)leaders.

Gamble ignores some of the more difficult challenges thrown up by his subject, fleeing the Israel-Palestine issue and choosing not to confront the special intelligence relationship between America and the UK and its implications for Europe and for Iraq’s fabled weapons of mass destruction. But then, he has set out not to write a systematic text, but to provoke thought. Like Reus-Smit’s work, Between Europe and America may be recommended on reading lists not as a text, but as a polemical essay.

Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones is professor of American history, Edinburgh University.

American Power and World Order. First edition

Author - Christian Reus-Smit
Publisher - Polity
Pages - 184
Price - £45.00 and £12.99
ISBN - 0 7456 3166 5 and 3167 3

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